The Day I Realized I Can't Protect My Daughter From Body Shaming

"Body shaming is just one more thing in this big, scary world that I can’t protect her from, but damned if I’ll stop trying."

My toddler was twirling in her tutu bathing suit while I shimmied into my plus-sized polka dot bikini. Since my 2-year-old is still in the phase where she finds it socially acceptable to just stare at people — even (especially?) when they’re naked — I was relieved that the only other people in the community center locker room were two pre-teen girls also getting changed to go swimming. Until…

“Ugh. I just really don’t like my legs,” said the older girl, who was probably about eleven. She looked expectantly at her slightly younger friend. There was a moment of heavy silence as a toddler twirled, a plump mom paused, and a friend scowled. Then the other child realized that she was now supposed to find a suitably undesirable part of her body that she could insult.

I can’t remember which body part the girls threw under the bus because I was horrified. I looked at my daughter, now preparing to do the splits while she waited for me.

“Your body is so strong,” I said. “Look at all the dancing it can do.”

She looked up, used to hearing me say things like this. “I like your swimsuit, Mommy. I can see your belly.”

“I know. Isn’t that nice?”

The girls chatted without noticing me trying to break down the building blocks of society that tell my daughter she needs to hate her body — the subtle signs that no trip to the pool or the beach or the dance club is ever complete without first taking a moment to knock oneself down. I know I’m not that good or pretty or smart, I swear.

When I see young women — like the two beautiful girls at that pool — actively working to find something they dislike about their bodies, I realize that despite size, my daughter is going to have to cope with a lot of social pressure about what her body should look like and how she should feel about it.

As I watched my daughter splashing in the pool, I glanced over at the two girls, sitting on the edge of the deep end with their feet in the water. They hunched their shoulders inward while my daughter romped loudly around the pool, taking up all the space and attention that a toddler should.

I wondered how long she could hold on to that confidence in being seen before she internalized the message that she had to make herself small, or disappear altogether. Was it too much to hope that she could keep it up forever? That when she was a teenager swimming with friends they could compliment each other on their bodies and not care what the rest of the pool might think?

Perhaps.

However, I intend to try. My plus-sized bikini is just one way that I hope to show my daughter each and every day that her body is perfectly imperfect. I’ll admit I’ve felt relief that my child seems to have her father’s fast metabolism and natural thinness, because the journey to body acceptance might be just a little bit easier for her.

At the same time, when I see young women like the two beautiful girls at that pool actively working to find something they dislike about their bodies, I realize that despite size, my daughter is going to have to cope with a lot of social pressure about what her body should look like and how she should feel about it.

Unfortunately, that day at the pool was a reminder to me that she’s going to encounter those bullshit expectations everywhere, and way too soon. Body shaming is just one more thing in this big, scary world that I can’t protect her from, but damned if I’ll stop trying.

It’s not fair that she has to grow up in a body-traumatizing culture, but hopefully I can at least give her a body positive oasis at home.

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